Offshore energy sector hits back at MPs ‘ring main’ plan

MPs want a new strategic plan for all offshore wind farms in the East. Pictured is Altitec at Scroby

MPs want a new strategic plan for all offshore wind farms in the East. Pictured is Altitec at Scroby Sands offshore wind farm. Picture: TMS Media. - Credit: Archant

MPs have launched a renewed bid for a 'strategic plan' for the East of England's offshore wind revolution – but an industry expert has said one of the key demands is 'not feasible'.

Norfolk Tories George Freeman, Jerone Mayhew and Duncan Baker met in Westminster to discuss the challenges faced in East Anglia as the region embarks on major works which could see it become the world's largest hub for offshore wind production.

The MPs are concerned about the disruption caused by connecting the high voltage electricity produced offshore to the National Grid and want a single 'ring main' which would connect all the farms. They believe this would drastically cut the amount of work which would need to take place onland.

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However RenewableUK's director of future electricity systems, Barnaby Wharton, said: "The offshore wind industry is working with National Grid and Ofgem on solutions to share connections and infrastructure, in order to keep onshore works and consumer costs to a minimum.

"Technical and legal restrictions mean that a 'ring main' is not feasible. Such a proposal is likely to cause unintended consequences which could jeopardise the UK's plans to secure our decarbonised energy system for the future, and put the security of our supply at risk.

"New rules would be needed, as there is currently no clarity on issues such as who would build it and where it would be located. It's also worth bearing in mind that the largest cable currently available only has a capacity of two gigawatts, so it wouldn't even be able to accommodate power from two of our latest projects, let alone a whole fleet of offshore wind farms.

"The industry is working on the development of higher voltage cables and planning how they could be shared. We're pleased that in Ofgem's Decarbonisation Plan, and National Grid ESO's business plan there are commitments to work on new solutions."

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After the meeting Mr Freeman said: "While we are 100% committed to, and supportive of, offshore wind production, we need a proper strategic plan in place to deliver it. That's why we are calling for a full review of the options available, including an offshore ring main, to take place."

Catrin Ellis Jones, stakeholder engagement and communications manager for Vattenfall's Norfolk Vanguard and Norfolk Boreas, added: "Working within the current laws and regulatory framework, developers with the support of stakeholders and the supply chain are making some great advances. The pace of improvement and innovation, is about as far from 'business as usual' as a sector can get.

"Since 2011 the price of offshore wind has dropped by two thirds and huge effort is ensuring environmental impacts are minimised and mitigated adequately. For example, projects like Vattenfall's Norfolk Vanguard and Norfolk Boreas are being developed in a co-ordinated manner.

"3.6GW of power will be delivered with just one onshore cable-duct installation phase. The developers have listened to local voices and committed early to ensure transmission is via new HVDC technology. This means the land use is less than half of an HVAC system, no cable relay station is necessary, and the major phase of construction will be completed within two years. When compared to early offshore wind developments, the progress in innovative technology and sustainability measures is clear, and should be encouraged."